Cleveland Child Custody Lawyers
Protecting Your Children's Rights & Best Interests
For many parents, child custody disputes are by far the most nerve-wracking part of a divorce or paternity case. With familial relationships potentially on the line, it can be easy to feel overwhelmed—particularly if you are not on the best terms with your child's other parent.
At Laubacher & Co., we know how difficult it can be to navigate a custody dispute. We will work with you closely and compassionately to develop a case strategy that protects your parental rights and allows your child to thrive.
To schedule a consultation with one of our Cleveland custody attorneys, contact us online or via phone at (440) 336-8687.
How Child Custody Works in Ohio
There are several methods to resolve a child custody dispute in the State of Ohio:
Negotiation or Collaboration
Divorcing parents can negotiate the terms of their custody and parenting time arrangements, provided that their agreed-upon terms reflect their children's best interests. While many parents can negotiate amicable terms independently, the collaborative method offers structure and requires professional guidance when parents are willing to work together but need additional support in doing so.
When divorcing parents cannot find common ground through negotiation or the collaborative method, mediation can offer a cost-effective alternative to litigating their dispute in court. Spouses can agree to pursue mediation independently; or, if they seek court involvement, the judge may require them to attempt mediation before abandoning their efforts at an amicable resolution.
If informal methods for establishing parental rights and responsibilities are ineffective, then divorcing parents should pursue litigation. In litigation, each parent (through his or her attorney) presents evidence to the judge, and then the judge makes a custody determination based upon Ohio's "best interests of the child" standard. Litigation can be time-consuming and costly. However, when necessary, it gives both parents equal opportunity to present their best case for their desired rights.
Child Custody Evaluations
During child custody litigation, the court may order one or both parents to undergo a psychological evaluation. These evaluations are common when parents allege that the other suffers from a mental disability or struggles with an issue such as alcohol dependence, or when a child has special needs. The judge feels it is necessary to better understand each parent's ability to provide the care and support their child requires. However, this list is by no means exhaustive, and child custody evaluations occur under a variety of other circumstances as well.
Appointment of a Guardian ad Litem
In child custody litigation, the court may also appoint a guardian ad litem to represent the children's best interests. Typically, a guardian ad litem is an attorney or social worker. Like psychological evaluations, the court may appoint a guardian ad litem independently, or it may do so by request of one of the parties. There are many unique aspects to custody proceedings involving guardians ad litem, and parents should be prepared to respond appropriately.
Joint Custody vs. Sole Custody
If you are considering a divorce and have one or more children with your spouse, it is crucial to understand your child custody options. The court will consider the best interests of the minor children to determine custody and parenting time arrangement based on the most stable, healthy environment for the child/ren. Ideally, the parents will establish a shared parenting arrangement that enables both parents to be involved in their child’s life.
Joint Custody & Shared Parenting
In the State of Ohio, joint custody is referred to as shared parenting, where both parents share parental rights and responsibilities. Parenting time is a component of shared parenting that involves a schedule that is in the best interests of the minor child.
According to Ohio law, shared parenting refers to a parenting plan where both parents are specified as residential and legal custodians when the minor child is with them. In a shared parenting plan, both parents are equally involved in childrearing decisions, expected to communicate with one another about their children, and share in the responsibilities associated with their children’s upbringing. Ultimately, the parents will work together to create a parenting plan that provides for significant issues pertaining to the children, such as education, religion, medical care, finances, and more.
Another benefit to shared parenting is that it may lessen the financial burden of child support. In Ohio, the calculations used for child support consider the amount of time each parent spends with the children, among other factors.
For a shared parenting plan to work, the parents need to determine how they will resolve disputes that may arise. A parenting plan should include a road map for dispute resolution, which will aid the parents in emotionally volatile situations where compromise is unlikely.
Sole Custody in Ohio
There are some situations where shared parenting is not in the best interest of the child. One parent may not be around enough to share in parental rights and responsibilities – as in situations where one parent moves out of state. Sometimes, a parent may not be fit to share custody as with parents who may struggle with substance abuse or mental health issues. Whatever the specific reason, sometimes the court will give sole custody to one parent.
If one parent is given sole custody, the court will designate the parent with custody as the "sole residential and custodial parent."
The court will establish the other parent as the "non-residential parent and non-custodial parent." The custodial parent will be the one to make significant decisions concerning the child, like education, medical care, and financial decisions. The non-custodial parent may be required to pay child support in an amount to be determined by the court to balance the child's needs with the custodial and non-custodial parent's financial situation.
How Do Courts Determine Custody in Ohio?
In any proceeding for the establishment or modification of child custody, the Ohio courts must make their determinations based upon the best interests of the children involved. If either parent has been convicted of or pled guilty to a crime involving child neglect, "the court shall consider that fact against naming that parent the residential parent and against granting a shared parenting decree." The Ohio courts will also consider whether either parent has been convicted of or pleaded guilty to child abuse or a sexual offense involving a member of his or her household.
The other factors the Ohio courts consider in determining the best interests of the child include:
- The wishes of the parents regarding the child's care;
- The wishes of the child, as expressed to the court;
- The child's interaction and interrelationship with his or her parents, siblings, and others;
- The child's adjustment to his or her current home, school, and community;
- The mental and physical health of all persons involved;
- The parent more likely to honor and facilitate court-approved parenting time rights;
- Whether either parent has failed to pay child support;
- Whether either parent has continuously and willfully denied the other parent's request to parenting time; and
- Whether either parent has moved or is planning to move out of state.
The courts will also consider:
- The parents' ability to cooperate and make joint decisions concerning the child;
- Each parent's ability to encourage the sharing of love, affection, and contact between the child and the other parent;
- Any history of, or potential for, child abuse, spousal abuse, domestic violence, or parental kidnapping;
- The geographic proximity of the parents as it relates to their shared parenting; and
- If the child has a guardian ad litem, the recommendation of the guardian.
Modifying Your Custody Plan
Under Ohio law, the courts can modify a final child custody decree if there has been a change in circumstances regarding the child, the child's residence, or either parent, and the modification would be in the best interests of the child. To request a modification, either parent can file a petition with the court.
At Laubacher & Co., our Cleveland child custody attorneys will work with you to either pursue an equitable custody arrangement in court or modify an existing custody order.